On Reading / On Writing / Poetry

Seasonal Paradox

The four seasons — you know, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter (I know some of you were thinking about the Jersey Boys, and some of you were hearing the strains of Vivaldi in your mind’s ear) — so conveniently and so obviously offer observational lessons about life and death that I am often amazed that artists of all types can still wring out of them a fresh insight. But a simple Google search proves a rich and variable allotment of poems about each time of year. There are plenty of songs devoted to them as well, and I am somewhat dismayed to report that this is the one I was thinking of as my fingers typed these opening words. Fashion depends for its life on the passing seasons. Vacation destinations. Vegetable eating. And the photography! (just check out Pinterest — you know you want to!) The four seasons — they’re everywhere.

I would expect that writers would observationally ponder whichever season looms outside their window. All the easier to craft the metaphor, right? Listen to the grass growing, smell the glossy leaves whispering in the soft spring air, peer, with writer’s eyes, at the world made new. But where is the imagination in THAT? The other day, I read a fellow blogger’s post about Sylvia Plath , which got me thinking about her poetry. So of course I went to poets.org to read some William Carlos Williams, whose imagination runs circles around mine.

I know you’re wondering how I managed to get from Sylvia Plath, whose depression and sorrow don’t really fit the springtime thing I am thinking about here, to WCW, whose style and content offer an image-filled examination of the everyday commonality of American life. I’ll tell you plainly: I have no idea. One minute I’m reading Plath’s “Daddy” and feeling oh! so endlessly thankful for my own father, and the next minute I’m discovering Williams’ “Winter Trees”:

Winter Trees — William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details

of the attiring and

the disattiring are completed!

A liquid moon

moves gently among

the long branches.

Thus having prepared their buds

against a sure winter

the wise trees

stand sleeping in the cold.

Simply lovely, isn’t it? (Plath has a poem by the same title, by the way.) And so I started thinking about the seasons, and how oftentimes it happens that the season at the tip of our fingers and noses and right before our eyes so immerses us in the sensory moment that only later can we grasp its meanings.  Yesterday, today, and even tomorrow, I will step outside and marvel at the raindrops collected on my hostas and delight in the bursting blooms of my hydrangeas. My eyes will feast and my heart will sing and I’ll wonder at the wonders of this luscious Spring. While the birds harmonize with my heart, another song pierces my soul —  the image of winter trees standing, “sleeping in the cold,” at rest from their spring and summer labors. The seasonal poem with something to teach me right now is not a poem about spring or summer — I can go outside and let the green and growing things teach me themselves. The complexities of life abide right outside my window. The challenges of dormancy — the “sure winter” in my soul — come to light with the poet’s words. My imagination awakens by the light of a ‘liquid moon.’ Perhaps writers pen the magic ‘in season.’ Readers, though — at least this one — find the learning take hold in the ‘off season.’

‘To everything, (turn, turn, turn) there is a season… ‘

See? Told ya. They’re everywhere.

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